Blanca of the Cetl Barony had been nicknamed Osita at some point in her life, but the days when the name was ironic were long gone. The polar bear was thin for her species, almost unhealthily so; her skin seemed to hang loosely on her frame under its rough coating of matted white fur speckled with green algae. She wore a plain but dirty dress of cotton that might have been blue at some point, the color nearly worn entirely out of it. Blanca's eyes were red-rimmed and fever-bright, and she glared at Bogo with silent contempt as he approached her cell.
When he was standing right in front of the thick wall of diamond that separated them, she pushed herself to her feet off of her cot. She was almost as tall as Bogo was, and although Bogo easily had her outweighed by several hundred pounds and was on the right side of the cell walls she showed no sign of being afraid or intimidated. "I don't speak to prey," she said, her voice coarse and low, and then she spat on the wall that separated them.
Bogo watched the spittle drip down the perfectly smooth wall of diamond silently. When he had been younger and less experienced, he might have given into the urge to come back with a smart remark—"You just did," perhaps—but it took no effort to let the opportunity pass and simply look down into her eyes.
Even though Bogo had never met the sickly-looking polar bear in his life, he knew her kind. He was sure that there would always be those predators dreaming of the glory days, over long before their great-grandparents had been born, when prey had been slaves to the predator ruling class. The last arrest Bogo had made while walking the city beat had been a spectacularly drunk cougar who, upon being arrested, had claimed to be a direct descendant of one of the old ruling families and had ordered Bogo to remove his "filthy hooves." That self-declared lord had spent the night sobering up in a cell, and had it not been Bogo's last action as an officer on the beat he doubted it would have stuck in his head.
Bogo had read the file on Blanca and thought he knew everything he needed to know about her; predators who thought like her were almost boringly the same when you really looked at them. In earlier years she had almost certainly helped write treasonous pamphlets, calling for the queen's abdication and for the prince consort to take the throne, but she had been at least smart enough to avoid anyone positively linking her to it. Not that it mattered much, in the grand scheme of things; Bogo and both of his immediate predecessors had more important things to take care of than a small number of discontents.
The birth of the princess had, almost certainly, brought Blanca to rage against such a hybrid. The princess had, in fact, fractured those calling for predator supremacy between those who thought she was a step forward for their cause and those who thought any amount of prey blood in a predator was too much. Blanca, it seemed, had been one of the latter, and if the rhetoric Bogo strongly suspected Blanca of writing had grown ever stronger and more absurd—her latest proposal, it seemed, was for the complete dissolution of the monarchy and its replacement with a council of noble predators to be chosen from those who participated in her cause—her own fortune seemed to have almost completely waned. If, that was, the wretched and pathetic example of a bear that glared angrily at him was any indication; he certainly doubted that her business was doing very well any more.
Although the torc Blanca had been wearing had been replaced with a plain prisoner's band of lead, Bogo had seen it when he had picked up Wilfrido's gaudily decorated one, and her guild symbol was pitted and corroded with age, the torc it was on scratched and smudged with greasy fingerprints. Altogether, the impression of Blanca that Bogo got was of a mammal who had descended into her own bitterness and impossible political dreams so deeply that she had just about lost her own ability to take care of herself. Prey outnumbered predators ten to one, after all, and while there were plenty of businesses that survived and thrived dealing only with predators it didn't appear as though Blanca's was one of them.
The silent moment after Blanca had spit must have dragged out into an eternity for her, because despite her vow she spoke again. Mammals like her always did, no matter what they promised, and it took much more effort for Bogo to resist a small smile at her crumbling than it had for him to stay silent himself. "You have no right to hold me here," she said, and Bogo thought he heard her voice crack a little, "No right!"
She was starting to panic, then. Starting to realize that, unlike all of her previous encounters with the City Guard, she had misplayed it. Whatever charm Blanca had once held—or, Bogo admitted to himself, whatever luck she might have held when it came to the officers who questioned her—was as wasted away as she herself was. Bogo considered her more carefully, watching as her breathing became more rapid and she nervously licked at her cracked lips, revealing a mouthful of yellowed teeth. He could certainly believe that Blanca would have a reason to try murdering the princess, and perhaps even the technical skill with making quauhxicallis with which to do so. What he was less sure of, however, was if she would have the ability to recruit other mammals to her cause anymore, particularly a llama. Could she have successfully put aside her hatred of prey to use one as her pawn? Perhaps. Or perhaps Jaime had been responsible for drawing Jorge de Cuvier in; he had always been remarkably charismatic. Perhaps Blanca had been Jaime's pawn.
Bogo was silent a moment longer, waiting for Blanca's panic to hit just the right point, before he spoke. "I have the queen's approval to do anything it takes to solve a mystery. Anything," he said, and he did his best to fill the last word with every dire implication he possibly could.
At the mention of the queen, Blanca's face distorted in disgust, but only briefly, before it crumpled into anxiety again. The polar bear seemed to be laboring under the impression that she could hide her feelings from him, but he felt as though he could see right through her. Anti-royal statements, she seemed to be realizing, were no longer a game that the City Guard mostly ignored when they weren't breaking up printing presses. Bogo could feel his deathly seriousness radiating off like the light from a blindingly bright alchemical torch, and unless Blanca was much stupider than she looked she looked she would not underestimate him despite her obvious contempt for prey.
"I didn't do anything," she whined, her tone eerily similar to Wilfrido's just minutes earlier.
"I haven't accused you of anything," Bogo said mildly, "Not yet, at least."
"Well—" Blanca began, and then swallowed hard before continuing, "I'm not a criminal."
Her eyes darted from Bogo's face to the impenetrable walls of diamond that made up her cell; she was trapped and knew it. "You've come close to being arrested before," Bogo said, looking down at her file in the same little bit of theater he had used on the weasel, "Nothing that stuck, it seems. Do you know why that would be?"
"Because—Because I'm not a criminal!" Blanca said, and Bogo shook his head slowly.
"That's not true," he said, "You had friends in the City Guard. Or perhaps in lower places."
It was more Bogo's intuition than any solid fact that suggested the conclusion to him, but it did fit what he knew. Blanca was far too small-time an agitator for her file to have ever crossed his desk before; his generals only bothered him with credible threats to the royal family. But the pattern her file suggested, one of coming away clean despite being in the wrong place at the wrong time with a frequency that would be unlikely for an innocent mammal, suggested she had some kind of connection. Perhaps one in the City Guard; perhaps even to Jaime himself. Or, considering that she was a polar bear, perhaps to Alfonso. The little shrew had seemed to have something of a fondness for using polar bears and it didn't seem impossible for Blanca to be a cousin or an in-law to one of Alfonso's lieutenants. Alfonso had been nothing if not practical, and a skilled blood magician would be exactly the sort of mammal he'd want to have owing him a favor.
Blanca had obviously fallen on hard times, perhaps as recently as a month ago or perhaps as long as five or six. Had she lost the favor of the protector she had relied on? Perhaps. Or perhaps she had been forced into a very desperate position by someone in need of a very difficult to manufacture quauhxicalli. Desperation could make a mammal do things that they normally wouldn't, after all. Bogo was patient enough to wait, and when Blanca's answer came at last, it was in a low mumble that he could barely hear.
"General del Bosque."
Although Bogo couldn't name all of his captains any more than he could name all of the stars in the sky, he did know each and every one of his generals. General del Bosque had been, as he recalled, an old wolf—nearly ninety, if he was remembering correctly—whose heart had finally given out about four months previously as he slept one night. He had enjoyed his position as a general for a remarkably long time, and if he had felt slighted for being passed up for the top slot and instead having to report to Bogo—who had, at the time of his promotion to captain general, held many decades less experience—he had never shown it. The grizzled old wolf had seemed quite content to keep order in his own little sliver of Zootopia, and while he had been dreadful at writing reports he had never otherwise much stuck out in Bogo's mind.
In retrospect, however, it occurred to Bogo that del Bosque's mammals did seem to arrest somewhat fewer predators than in other parts of Zootopia. Bogo had never paid it much mind, but the idea that the wolf had been sympathetic to predators who wished to see prey brought low seemed unfortunately plausible. As far as Bogo was concerned, it was also the end of his suspicions when it came to Blanca, and when he prodded at her knowledge of the attempts on the princess's life she certainly didn't seem to know anything of value.
That did not mean that he was going to let her go; so far as he was concerned her sins had finally caught up to her, and his only thought as he left her alone in her cell was to make sure that the mammals del Bosque had filled his command structure with weren't similarly flexible in their loyalty to the queen and princess. Once he had the time, of course.
True to his word, Bogo returned to Wilfrido's cell; the weasel was sitting on his cot looking rather glassy-eyed as he entered the room, but he immediately jumped to his feet as Bogo approached him. "Have you reconsidered?" Bogo asked, doing his best to sound uninterested in the answer.
"This jail is safe, isn't it?" Wilfrido asked, and it was certainly not the question Bogo was expecting.
"No one gets in or out unless I want them to," Bogo said, and the firmness of his voice was entirely unforced.
Successful breakouts from Oztoyehuatl's Jail were so vanishingly rare that not only had one never happened in Bogo's entire career with the City Guard but he couldn't even remember hearing about one happening in the last century or so. So far as he knew, no one had ever managed to break into the prison, either, although anyone who did would quickly find themselves up against some of the City Guard's most elite soldiers.
Wilfrido nodded slowly before looking back and forth, as if verifying that the room his cell was in was as completely empty as it looked. It was; the door that led to the corridor and the guard beyond it was closed, and the stone expanse of the room was barren except for the walls of his cell, his cot, the weasel himself, and Bogo. Wilfrido pressed himself up against the thick diamond wall, his quick and shallow breathing fogging it up a little. "Two or three months ago," he said, his voice a reedy whisper, "There was a mammal coming 'round my shop. Real suspicious-like, see?"
Bogo bent down until he was level with Wilfrido's head, which took quite a bit of doing; the weasel was rather short. "Suspicious how?" he asked, pitching his voice so low that it was barely more than a rumble.
Wilfrido's eyes darted around again, his mouth opening, and then closing, and opening again as he hesitated. At last, he brought one paw up to the unruly fur atop his head and futilely tried smoothing it out. "All in a cloak. Green one, hood up. Now, I keep my shop bright, even at night, you understand? It's good for business, see, if mammals can see the goods real clear. Honest, you know? Like—"
The weasel had started rambling, but he must have caught the expression on Bogo's face because he came to a sudden stop. "Hood up," he repeated, "But it was like... Like he didn't have nothing under it. Pitch black under that hood, even in the light. Like he didn't have a face."
Wilfrido shivered, and Bogo considered what he was describing. A mammal in a cloak that completely swallowed his face wasn't just unsettling; it didn't seem especially possible. It was like a story that calves told to scare each other, and yet the encounter seemed to have left its mark on Wilfrido. If he was lying, Bogo couldn't guess at the reason, and so he did his best to keep his voice even. "How tall was he? Could you tell his species?"
Wilfrido shook his head so rapidly it was as though it was on a swivel. "He didn't have anything showing under that cloak, milord. He was medium-sized, I guess, maybe four or five feet. But that voice!"
The weasel shuddered again. "Like nothing living, I'll tell you that. It was awful. Like... Like..."
Wilfrido seemed to be groping for a comparison that was escaping him, before he finally came up with, "Like two stones scraping together."
"But you're sure it was a male voice?" Bogo asked, and Wilfrido barely had to consider the question before shrugging.
"Maybe not," he said, "I never want to hear it again."
Bogo couldn't stop the frown that slowly spread across his face. It was a ridiculous story; during his days of walking the streets it had not been uncommon for mammals to make up obviously false stories in an attempt to avoid punishment for their crimes. Some of those stories had held much better veneers of plausibility than Wilfrido's claim; even a cihuateteo snatching up kits sounded more likely. And yet Bogo could not ever remember seeing a mammal believe their own story as much as Wilfrido seemed to believe his. It was either genuine fear in the weasel's eyes or he had suddenly become a much better actor in the few minutes that had passed since Bogo had left him to question Blanca. "What did he want?" Bogo asked at last.
"He wanted..." Wilfrido began, and when he continued his voice was even quieter.
"He wanted a blood magician to do something. Something difficult, he says, so he wants the very best. I says, I says it's a real compliment he's coming to me and he..."
Wilfrido swallowed hard before continuing. "He just laughs, see? This awful, awful laugh, and even when his head goes back—so it's right under the lights, see?—I still can't see nothing of his face. He says he doesn't want me to do it, but he hears I know mammals. And I do, milord, it's the gods' honest truth so it is, good business to—"
The weasel caught himself rambling even before Bogo's expression could change and stopped again. "And so I asks him, what's he need done? And he says that's none of my business, if I know what's good for me, just that it has to be a blood magician who would do anything for the right price. And not just any blood magician, either, but the best I know."
Wilfrido's voice was trembling with every word, but he plunged on, seemingly unable to stop himself. "And I says it might take an awful lot of money and he doesn't say nothing. He just slides a platinum piece across my counter—but I can't see if he's got paws or hooves, he's got these funny, how you call 'em, metal gauntlets on—and then he says it's mine if I give him a name."
"A platinum piece?" Bogo repeated, and the skepticism in his voice must have been obvious because Wilfrido began nodding vigorously.
Platinum pieces were much too valuable to be in common circulation; there just wasn't very much need for such large denomination coins. Bogo had gone his entire life before becoming captain general without so much as seeing one, let alone handling one, and he had certainly never had such a coin in his possession. The palace did occasionally have the City Guard transport them, and he had seen for himself how the silvery coins glowed with their own beautiful internal light that put the shining markings on any of the lower coins to shame. "I still have it in my shop, milord," Wilfrido said, interrupting his thoughts, and Bogo could feel his frown deepen.
It was the sort of detail the weasel would have been foolish to add if he was making the story up, and for all the platinum bangles he had decorated his torc with it was difficult to imagine him being successful enough to earn the equivalent of a platinum piece. "We'll want to see it," Bogo said, "Who did you name?"
"There's a tigress, milord," Wilfrido said, "A tigress in Phoenix. Valentina, her name is. Scares me a bit, if I'm being honest."
Bogo somehow managed to keep his face a perfect mask, despite his pulse suddenly seeming to run hot through his head, even though the name was one of the ones that Alfonso had also given. There had still been nothing from Phoenix, but it was certainly seeming to be increasingly urgent to get word back from there. "And..." Wilfrido continued, "The mammal... He said I shouldn't tell nobody he had visited me, not if I knew what was good for me. And I said I wouldn't but..."
The little weasel shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "He said if I did, the Queen's Council would see to it no one ever saw me again."
With that, Wilfrido sank to his knees, tears streaming down his face, as though telling the story had sapped him of all his strength. Bogo, meanwhile, could feel his thoughts suddenly shifting direction away from learning more about Valentina. Certainly any mammal who wished to appear intimidating could claim to be empowered by a member of the Queen's Council. But what if it was actually true? Had Cerdo, Cencerro, or Corazón actually sent Wilfrido's mysterious visitor?
Bogo repressed a sigh as he stood up to his full height, ignoring the sniveling form of Wilfrido on the other side of the cell wall. His first meeting as a true equal to the other members of the Queen's Council was certainly shaping up to be an interesting one.
The word "cetl" is the Nahuatl word for "ice," which is why I chose it for the barony kept at freezing temperatures. "Osita" is Spanish for "little bear," a nickname that would have been ironic when Blanca was heavier in her youth. "Blanca," in addition to being a name, is Spanish for "white," suggesting her parents weren't very creative when naming her. The fur of polar bears can sometimes turn green, and the cause is indeed algae; it's most commonly seen in polar bears kept in zoos in warm climates.
There have been a few other references to how the structure of the city used to work before it was conquered, and in this chapter we see that there are mammals who wish that it was still the way it had been. I thought it would also be true to life that, even among mammals who oppose the existence of a monarchy, they aren't necessarily going to want a truly representational form of government.
Bogo's size is definitely emphasized in the movie, and with that size I figure he's got to be pretty heavy. In the real world, female polar bears top out around 650 pounds (about 295 kilograms), far short of a male buffalo (1300 pounds, or 590 kilograms). Since the two characters are almost the same height I think it helps indicate just how scrawny the bear is.
"Bosque" is Spanish for "forest," which seemed an appropriate family name for a wolf.
The cihuateteo, or "divine woman" in the Nahuatl language, was a sort of malevolent spirit that the Aztecs believed in. Their belief was that, if a woman died during childbirth, she would come back as a spirit and attempt to steal children. The Aztecs believed that childbirth was a sort of battle, analogous to what male warriors went through on the battlefield, and successfully giving birth to a child was a victory.
It's been previously established in this story that coins have glowing alchemical markings on them to demonstrate that they're genuine, and here that platinum coins actually glow themselves. In all cases it's not so much that the metal is precious—alchemy making it more or less trivial to make precious metals—but that it's a fiat currency with an agreed upon value. I drew the idea of platinum coins glowing from some of the things that have been done with high denomination coins in the real world. The Royal Canadian Mint, for example, makes coins of precious metal that have a holographic effect.
As always, thanks for reading! If you're so inclined to leave a comment, I'd love to know what you thought!